Let's say Franz Kafka were alive today and working in television.
"Franz Kafka were alive today and working in television."
And let's say that he's a bit on the zany side and that he is filthy stinking rich.
"That he's a bit on the wacky side and that he is filthy stinking rich."
Those conditions being met, Franz might possibly come up with a TV series along the lines of, or even exactly like, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the largely improvised and hugely hilarious comedy that returns in splendor for a new season on HBO tomorrow night at 10, right after "The Sopranos."
Unfortunately for Kafka, Larry David already did come up with the show, but you knew that or perhaps figured it out. Or don't care. Whatever! David, typecast as himself -- a comedy writer so rich from having co-created "Seinfeld" that he need never work again, but does anyway -- stumbles and careens through what should be a fairly cushy and effortless existence but isn't. Perhaps part of the point of the show is that no one's is.
David's is repeatedly interrupted for absurdities, calamities and imbroglios. Some of them are brought on by David's own naturally cantankerous demeanor; he'll pick a fight just to liven up his day. Others can be blamed on the kind of evil demons many people think haunt their own lives -- the vast conspiracy that keeps you from locating a parking place within a mile of the movie theater, or opening a bottle of "childproof" medicine when your head hurts, or finding a cell phone that actually works.
Speak of the devil. It's a malfunctioning cell phone -- and there's a redundancy for you -- that leads to an interlocking series of crises on the second episode: Comic Richard Lewis's new Christian Scientist girlfriend is turned into a living gargoyle because Larry's wife, Cheryl, didn't get the news flash that the girlfriend is allergic to peanuts when Larry called Cheryl from the cell phone store.
On the premiere, guest star Ted Danson decides to go in with him on a new restaurant (shades of "The Larry Sanders Show") along with Michael York (all the stars play themselves, of course) and other investors. It's nice that Danson gets the chance to be on a really good comedy show, instead of just his own drab series, "Becker," because he is very funny.
Ensuing complications involve a shirt worn in a photo by a grieving widow's dead husband; a "Wizard of Oz" birthday party for Danson's 5-year-old daughter that ends with Larry lying on the ground, bleeding and moaning, victim of a failed pin~ata bashing; and a nonexistent trip that Larry claims to have made to a pear farm in Sonoma. Like George Costanza on "Seinfeld," Larry David's Larry David is always ready with a lie to use as an excuse or an escape hatch, and the lie almost always snaps him right back in the puss.
Sometimes Larry is asking for trouble. For example, early in the episode he offends his dentist, something only a very foolish or reckless person would do. Larry finds everyone else's idiosyncrasies to be ridiculous but his own to be endearing. "I don't like talking to the people I know," he tells his wife, "but strangers I have no problem with." In fact, he has problems with everybody.
The cast of regulars returns in splendid form, especially Cheryl Hines as Cheryl, Jeff Garlin as his manager, Jeff Greene (who gives up red meat in Episode 1, but, strangely, eats a steak in Episode 2), and the delightfully intimidating Wanda Sykes as Cheryl's friend Wanda, whose return is delayed until next week's show but who is well worth waiting for.
"Curb Your Enthusiasm" is not really a sitcom but a long serialized comic novel for television, one that not only Kafka but Woody Allen could take pride in having created.
In addition to the guest stars and regulars, directors Robert B. Weide (tomorrow night) and Larry Charles (the following week), consulting producer Alan Zweibel (veteran of "Saturday Night Live" and "It's Garry Shandling's Show") and everyone else involved -- probably right down to the drivers and caterers -- seems to be working in perfect harmony with David and thereby producing the equivalent of a gorgeously dissonant jazz symphony.
Or maybe it's just a darn funny show put together by proverbial consummate old pros. Regardless, nevertheless and be everything as it may, each episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" flies by in a dizzying blur of neurotic delight. If we gave out stars with reviews around here, and we don't because it's dumb, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" wouldn't get four; it would get four hundred.